WeWork vs. the Whistleblower

Bloomberg Businessweek|June 29, 2020

WeWork vs. the Whistleblower
A former employee speaks out about the culture that undid a mega-IPO

Adam Neumann is used to dealing with conflict. Last year, when WeWork Cos. botched its initial public offering, he was forced to resign as chief executive officer of the company he founded. He’s also locked in a legal battle with the coworking startup’s biggest backer, Masayoshi Son.

Back in 2016, things were a bit different. The criticism of WeWork was rare. When Joanna Strange, a former employee, found and shared with Bloomberg internal documents that showed WeWork was falling far short of its financial goals, WeWork sued her. She now says the ordeal—which included questioning from the FBI—nearly broke her.

Strange’s story shows the lengths to which WeWork went to stop the spread of damaging information, years before the company felt the full force of bad news. She details her experience for the first time here and in an upcoming episode of Bloomberg Technology’s new podcast, Foundering. WeWork declined to comment.

The documents and recordings she shares provide an internal view of the embattled company before its cash-flow struggles and runaway expenses became tabloid fodder. In particular, her audio files of Neumann speaking at all-hands meetings in 2015 and 2016 give a glimpse of the man behind WeWork’s rapid rise. Listened to now, his words portend its spectacular crash. He warns new employees that they might not get credit for their ideas. He says WeWork pays staffless than they could get elsewhere because he wants to make sure people are in jobs “for the right reasons.” (WeWork did, however, give employees stock options.) He tells them WeWork is nice to them for the first 30 days, and just “OK” for the next 30. “By day 61, you’ll know our truth,” he says.

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June 29, 2020